Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Editorial | Global warming an existential threat

Published:Monday | July 10, 2017 | 7:00 AM

Last week in Poland, Donald Trump argued that Western civilisation faced an existential threat from radical Islam. The fundamental question of the time, he suggested, therefore, was whether the West had the will to survive, and the confidence to stand for its values, at any cost. Mr Trump, of course, is wrong.

Like many other extreme and fanatical political or religious movements in history, this violent caricature of a great faith, whether in its formulation as Islamic State or al-Qaeda, or any of the offshoots thereof, poses a grave threat. But, in the end, they are defeated, for victory, ultimately, demands winning the minds of the majority of rational people.

In fact, if Mr Trump should know, the real existential threat, not only to the West, but the entire world, is very close to Jamaica. It was highlighted in Kingston last week by a very mundane report by the Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), and commented on by University of the West Indies climate scientist Michael Taylor.

G-20 leaders, except for Mr Trump, also expounded on the matter at their meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

In its outlook for August and September, CIMH forecast for Jamaica and other Caribbean countries that "heat will be intense", but warned people to be alert for flash flooding because "of extremely wet spells". It represents volatility in the weather, which is part of the climate-change phenomenon that Professor Taylor told this newspaper is the "new normal", but which Mr Trump infamously dismissed as a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese.

As his ignorance of history causes him to misapprehend and overstate the intellectual potency of the Islamist jihadists, Mr Trump similarly misunderstands and, therefore, denies the scientific fact of, and the danger posed by, climate change - and that it is primarily the outcome of human behaviour.

 

REAL EXISTENTIAL THREAT

 

The world, on average, has grown hotter by nearly a full degree centigrade over the past 140 years. Ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. The danger to island and coastal states like Jamaica is not only from the heat and wet spells of which the CIMH warned for this summer. There is a real existential threat - potential disappearance of the states beneath rising seas.

It is to alleviate these and other dangers why almost the entire world signed up to the Paris climate change accord aimed at keeping the rising of world temperatures to within two degrees Celsius at the end of the century. That will require states doing things to limit their emission of greenhouse gases.

Mr Trump, however, has pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement. That is significant. For while the United States, on a nominal basis, is the world's second-largest polluter after China, its emissions are several multiples of China's.

The good thing is that, unlike Mr Trump, other global leaders believe in science and understand that the world faces a crisis. The United States of Donald Trump may watch from the periphery, but, happily, the Paris Agreement has been declared to be irreversible.